The death of a husband is a tragedy that befalls a woman as it involves a physical break in their relationship, and it is seen as the most stressful and devastating thing in life.
In every society, there are women of all ages whose husbands have gone to the great beyond, most especially the vulnerable ones. The underprivileged widows and their vulnerable children constitute a significant component of every country’s population.
According to the United Nations, there are an estimated 258 million widows around the world, and nearly one in ten lives in extreme poverty. Apart from that, 2.7 billion women are denied access to the same choice of jobs as men due to certain unconfronted restrictions, and lots face gender-based violence even today.
Available statistics show that Nigeria has over eight million disadvantaged widows with over 21 million children. These statistics appear to be on the increase due to prevalence of crisis, terminal ailments, crimes, religion, and politics.
Therefore, the period after the death of one’s husband is supposed to be a time when everything should be done to assist widows to withstand the emotional and psychological trauma, pain and frustration associated with the loss and not to add to their problems. But unfortunately, the reverse is the case by the African tradition, especially in Nigeria. People chose to maltreat widows instead of helping to ease their problems so that they live a better life.
On the African continent, particularly Nigeria, widows face seemingly insurmountable challenges. Widows rather than being sympathized with and assisted are subjected to near in-human treatment in certain traditional ritual rites and practices such as solitary confinement, defacement, dis-inheritance and a relatively long mourning period. Many are stigmatised, blamed for their husband’s death and displaced from their marital home. The most obvious effects are deepening poverty, acute stress and depression, loss of identity and self-esteem.
The widowhood condition exposes women to psychological and physical abuse as well as a whole range of health-related problems including HIV/AIDs. They face varying degrees of difficulties and untold hardships even though they tend to suffer in silence, in most cases.
For many Nigerian widows, they live not only with psychological challenges, financial constraints, and the burden of raising their children alone, but also with the cultural demands of widowhood.
In most parts of the world, widows are deprived from benefiting from inheritance of their late husbands, especially with the absence of a will. There have been sufficient instances of deprivation attempts and fights, even when the husbands left a will.
Other sundry challenges widows face in our society range from traditional, economic, emotional, and mental to spiritual problems. They also have difficulties engaging in social interaction, and poor housing, to mention a few. Others include violation of widows’ rights: dethronement, defacement, forced levirate marriage; disinheritance and denial of the right of dignity and equality.
These travails, in most cases, make it practically impossible for the widows and their children to have a good life.
These challenges made the United Nations to formally adopt June 23 as the International Widows Day (IWD). The IWD is recognised all over the world to address the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependents in many countries and to raise awareness of the issue of widowhood.
Having almost nothing left to themselves, many widows find solace in petty trading due to inability to obtain sufficient capital to venture into reasonably lucrative businesses that would adequately take care of them and their children, who usually suffer malnutrition, are prone to diseases, and in most cases, are unable to go to school.
It is therefore incumbent on governments at all levels, non-governmental organizations, institutions, and individuals to stand up to tame these challenges and make life worth living for widows in Africa in general and Nigeria in particular.
Worried by plight of the Nigerian widow, the Chinwe Bode-Akinwande (CBA) Foundation, a non-governmental organization in Nigeria, has tailored its activities and programmes to promote the protection of Nigerian underprivileged widows and their vulnerable children, restoring immediate and lasting hope, confidence, and courage in their lives.
Established in 2015 by Mrs. Chinwe Bode-Akinwande, the foundation, under its five-point agenda, has reached out to thousands of underprivileged widows and children through skills acquisition training, health intervention, business start-ups and provision of clothing, nutrition and tuition fees for the children.
The Chinwe Bode-Akinwande (CBA) Foundation has so far empowered 8,600 widows through its women empowerment and capacity building initiative; over 4,500 underprivileged widows have received health intervention while over 10,600 have received food items. The foundation has also reinstated 158 children in schools, empowered 220 widows financially to start a business of their own and also provided palliatives to 250 widows during the COVID-19 pandemic lock-down.
Also, through advocacy and public health awareness campaigns, the foundation has continued to enlighten the masses about the plight of the widows.
The CBA Foundation has also been at the front burner calling on the Nigerian government to implement and enforce the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (VAPP), which gives protection to widows in the country. The foundation believes that the government needs to create more awareness and enforcement of acts for widows to know their rights and for people to tread with caution.
According to the president/founder of the Foundation, Mrs. Chinwe Bode-Akinwande, “the basis for starting the foundation is driven from the need to impact the lives of women who ordinarily might have lost hope. We give hope to the hopeless.
“The issue of rape, sexual harassment and all manners of molestations are suffered mostly by women not to think of the most vulnerable amongst them – the widows.
“Hence, we are driven to support underprivileged widows in to have a positive outlook on life, despite the problems they experience by losing their loved one, mostly the breadwinner of the family.
She added that sufficient evidence suggests that widowed women “are severely affected financially, psychologically, sexually and socially and these are rooted in cultural and traditional practices as well as the socialization processes that condition women to dependence. These conditions have erected enormous difficulties for women to creatively initiate new robust relationships with both men and women in social and economic spheres upon widowhood.
“It’s even sadder that widows are not looked after by families, private sectors, governments etc. and to worsen the matter, societies curse them.
“Their children also face several problems like being withdrawn from the school and becoming more vulnerable to abuse. The CBA Foundation has joined to lend its voice for the past five years,” she posited.
Some of the beneficiaries of the CBA Foundation share their story.
A widow, Ebele Onuzuluike, while sharing her sad story said:
“My name is Ebele Onuzuluike. I am from Ndiakwu, Otolo Nnewi. My husband died September 1, 2012. Things are too tough for me. What I am passing through my late husband’s family is too much!
They want to take over my inheritance and that of my kids but by the grace and power of God, I was given one. However, the family told me that they do not need me in the compound, that I should leave and move to the land they have given me. The sisters at times come down to fight me.
At times, when I am back from the market in the evening, my properties have been thrown out of the house.
As at February 1, 2021, things got so bad that the kinsmen had to step in and resolve for the family to leave the land
Before the February 1 issue, I lit a crossover candle on my husband’s grave and was praying. The family asked what that was, I told them I was praying. One of them came back to ask why I left some refuse on the farm. I said nothing, he slapped me.
The sister came and slapped me, and we started fighting. I had to call my family and they dispersed.
They wanted to sell the land and I found out and started running helter-skelter. They all were aware.
They sold it and shared the money amongst themselves but they eventually gave me another piece of land. Since I don’t have a house, I had to rent a place to move with my kids. I have three kids.
They see all that happens and can tell.
CBA Foundation really helped me with the poultry business, but the market has been tough since the COVID-19 pandemic, but I am striving to keep up the business and feed my kids.”
Another widow, Ezubuike Chidinma Maryam, said: “I hail from Anambra State. I am a hair stylist. I lost my husband in January 2016. It has not been easy for me and my two children.
Few months after my husband died, the family began to fight me to leave the house I built. I resisted them. They intruded into my husband’s landed property and I reported the matter to our king. The case is on-going. My husband’s family said I’m not known in the family and that I should leave.
It has not been easy at all but all thanks to the CBA Foundation which came to my rescue. Today, I have my own shop where I do my business.
I want the government to support widows in the country because we are suffering.”
According to Mrs. Esther Fashina, it has been a hellish experience for her and her children.
“My husband died about 22 years ago. I have been managing since then with petty trade until last year when my first born died. My children and I left my husband’s house because of incessant battles from my husband’s family.
My husband’s family doesn’t care about the children. I have been the only one struggling for my children.
“I thank the CBA Foundation. They have been so supportive. The foundation bought a kerosene tank for me which I use to sell kerosene.”
For Mrs Nnodu, a mother of three, she and her kids hawk fruits on the streets. To boost her income, she used to borrow money from the women’s group to sell plastics but was unable to meet up interests and timelines. She became a lucky beneficiary of CBA Foundation seed capital for the plastic business and packaging of the fruits. As a foundation that frowns against child labour of any kind, the support by CBA Foundation is instrumental to ensuring the kids stop hawking and are able to go back to school.
The kids’ welfare had remained a huge challenge for Mrs Okonkwo. The widow who cleans the streets and takes care of her very aged mother, wants to start a poultry business that can fetch her money, take care of the sick aged mother with her and cater for her kids. CBA Foundation however came to her rescue also by providing seed capital for the poultry business.